Picks of the Week #4

Space imagery and cosmic sound worlds meet classic bossa nova in London-based Japanese/German singer-songwriter ケンコバヤシ Ken Kobayashi’s new track ‘Like The Stars’. Kobayashi continues to kindle Japan’s obsession for ‘city pop’ and ‘Shibuya-kei’, terms used to revive feelings of nostalgia and illustrate Japan’s fascination for Western musical styles. Its lush harmonies and syncopated rhythms stir up a quintessential bossa nova vibe, while a sparkling array of synth colours resonate an otherworldly experience.

  • とけた電球 Toketa Denkyu – いらない ‘Iranai

J-rock can be dynamic and voltage-driven, but it can also be melodious and even romantic. Four-piece band とけた電球 Toketa Denkyu (‘Melted Light Bulb’) tugs at the listener’s heartstrings with their track いらない ‘Iranai’ (‘I Don’t Want It’). Swaying in its mid-tempo beat, the quartet belts out a passionate rock ambience driven by harmonies banged out by the bright piano and guitar, clamorous drums, an electrifying solo before the final chorus and Iwase’s vivid and full-bodied vocals and poignant melodies.

  • DATS – ‘Some boy’

Representing Tokyo’s youth culture is four-piece indie-rock band DATS. Since their debut in 2013, the foursome has made waves in the Japanese music scene with tracks like ‘Some boy’. Perhaps reminiscent of The 1975, the track resonates with the British band’s alt-rock vibe with its haunting synths, jangling guitar colours, pulsating drum rhythms and anthemic vocals enriched in octaves.

Catchy J-pop doesn’t get better than Frederic, who unveiled their latest single ‘ONLY WONDER’. Infused with pentatonic flavours in the melodies, the current three-piece band from Kobe prefecture dances away on the musical motorway with infectious guitars, snappy melodies, and Mihara Kenji’s breezy vocals.

© Isaku Takahashi

New Japanese Vibes (54) – Ken Kobayashi ‘Know You More’

Singer-songwriter Ken Kobayashi shares both Japanese and German origin in his DNA. Now based in London, his new track ‘Know You More’ exudes a gentle, melancholic pop/bossa nova vibe that echoes the ‘Shibuya-kei’ trend, the Japanese fascination for styles outside their borders.

While the track wanders through in its leisurely ambience ferried by the serene bossa nova propulsion, groovy and nostalgic licks, and Kobayashi’s cloudy and graceful vocal tones, electro synth colours and countermelodies beautifully weave their way into the mix to coax a unique sound world.

Other Info/Context

  • Ken Kobayashi’s new album Like The Stars will be released on April 6th, to mark his Japan debut.

© Isaku Takahashi

Perfume

The trio from Hiroshima, consisting of Aa-chan, Kashiyuka and Nocchi are a significant name in the dramatic change of the musical landscape of ‘idol-pop’. They sell themselves with their clear-cut dance moves, heavily processed android vocals, a wonderful array of electronic synth and drum palettes, and a fascination towards futuristic imagery.

It would be fitting to start off with one of their early hits ‘Polyrhythm’, the song that first attracted major attention. It is electro-sound at its full potential: extensive use of vocoder engineering, an array of dazzling synthetic textures and a heart-pounding beat.

Although a rhythmically ‘user-friendly’ version (one with the bridge taken out) exists, for me the polyrhythmic bridge is the highlight of the track. Admittedly, it does drag on slightly, but it’s a novel way to create a buzz of excitement to the latter stage of the song.

My all-time favourite Perfume tune is ‘Laser Beam’. There is a slightly mysterious quality to the melody in the verse, but I feel it creates some tension towards the voltage-driven chorus. Musically the track is immersed in glitch, laser-like synths, an aggressive bass line and a foot-tapping four-on-the-floor beat. The trio unleashes a meticulously drawn choreography (partly influenced by the ball pitch of Japanese baseball player Ichiro), executed in pristine condition.

‘Spring of Life’ is a musical jab of aggressive techno beats and punishing sequences of steps and moves. The bubbly, energetic radiation is driven by the rhythmically pulsating distorted synths, rich vocal layers and a gear-shifting chorus accented by the opening lyric ‘spring of life!’

Their latest anthem ‘Pick Me Up’ sees a transition towards a more Euro-centric groove, perhaps in their efforts to sustain their growing international recognition. A surprising touch of Avicii is present when the acoustic guitar makes a prominent appearance in the first verse. The pre-chorus is successful in providing a gradual crescendo into the explosive, catchy chorus. The vocals are less processed than their earlier musical output, which adds an honest, human touch to the song. Despite the fact that elements of realism are slowly crawling into Perfume’s artistry (in the sense that their actual voices play a productive role rather than being sonically manipulated), they sustain their futuristic spirit with a music video set around a strange, unearthly environment.

Perfume‘s producer Yasutaka Nakata is clever in the way he packs complex musical and visual ideas into a package that is easy to consume within the mainstream. Perhaps Perfume is a testament to Nakata’s ability to refashion kitsch idol pop from a mechanised machine-line system into an exciting melting pot of artistic innovation.

Other Listening:

  • One Room Disco
  • 1mm
  • VOICE
  • Magic of Love
  • Chocolate Disco

© Isaku Takahashi